Gary Beck (Royal Australian Air Force), Bomber Pilot
Gary Beck flew Canberra bombers with the Royal Australian Airforce in Vietnam. They flew low-level missions that required accurate flying.
In 1967, eight Canberra bombers were sent to Vietnam by the Australian Government as part of its commitment to the war. A young plot named Gary Beck was very keen to fly one.
"I was standing in the crew room and my posting came to Caribous in Vietnam, and I said, 'Oh God no, I don't want to do that!' And the CO heard me. 'Beck! Come in here!' 'Yes sir, what's wrong?' 'You saying you don't want to go to Vietnam?' 'Oh no sir, I just don't want to go on Caribous'. 'What do you want to do?' 'I want to fly Canberras, sir'. And that day was the only time I ever had any influence over anyone; my posting was changed to Canberras."
Gary joined No. 2 Squadron RAAF as part of the US Air Force 35th Tactical Fighter Wing. They were based at Phan Rang Air Base.
"We were blown away by the size of the American air base. We landed and the number of aircraft in the revetments, and the length of the runways, it was just massive. But the thing that really blew us away was the Australian compound that had been built for us by No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron. We happened to have the only water closet toilets on the base and the Americans were quite impressed with that."
The Canberras mostly undertook low-level daylight bombing missions. Accuracy was everything.
"We always operated with a forward air controller, and the forward air controller would brief us and designate the target by firing a rocket. And the smoke, a little white smoke would appear and he would say, 'Alright magpie, I want you to bomb 10 metres right of the smoke and 50 metres short of the smoke.' And so the navigator is saying, 'Right, I've got the smoke, left, left, steady, steady, steady, right steady, steady, steady, steady, steady, left steady. Hold it, hold it hold it, you've got it, bomb gone'. And you could relax then. We learned to fly much more accurately than we had ever flown on operations or exercises in Australia. This was a whole new world to us."
Unlike the experience of other returning veterans, Gary believes that the No. 2 Squadron crews found life less confronting.
"We were so occupied all the time; there was never this feeling for us that we weren't welcomed home, or we've missed out on something. And I think that was true of anyone on our squadron certainly, and anyone in the air force, because we weren't part of the Nashos. We had no experience like that. So I think all those feelings were mostly felt by those who came back from the army tour in Vietnam and suddenly had nothing. They were just in a sort of a friendly wasteland."
The No. 2 Squadron crews were astonishingly accurate. They flew 5% of the Fighter Wing's missions but accounted for 16% of the bomb damage. Five crew members were killed during the war.